ArcGIS Pro

How to choose between linear referencing and location referencing

A common question that we get from users is, when should I use the core linear referencing tools and when do I need to upgrade to the Location Referencing (Roads and Highways and Pipeline Referencing) extension? This blog is dedicated to tackling some of the common scenarios when you might want to consider upgrading to Location Referencing.

But to start off let’s go over what routes are and why you might want to use relative positioning. Routes are made up of a unique identifier and a measurement system. You can provide a position using a measure instead of explicitly stating an x, y location. In ArcGIS Pro, there are several capabilities that allow you to manage, model, and visualize your linear referenced data.

What can I do with the core linear referencing tools?

The linear referencing tools come included with a basic license level. While there are many things you can do with the core tools, some common workflows include: creating routes, inspecting your data, visualizing your data, and performing analysis. The core tools use simple features to model routes and route event records. Users are required to ensure that their route identifiers are unique. Also, measures do not need to monotonically increase.

Create routes:

Inspect your data:

Visualize route events:

Perform analysis:

To learn more about linear referencing see Introduction to linear referencing.

What are some common scenarios when I may want to consider getting the location referencing extension?

For users interested in extending linear referencing use within their organization, the Location Referencing (Roads and Highways and Pipeline Referencing) extension provides additional linear referencing capabilities and tools. Like the core linear referencing tools, Location Referencing tools utilize m-enabled polylines to represent one or more network of routes that have point and line events linear referenced on them. Location Referencing extends linear referencing to support an enterprise LRS, allowing the editing, visualization, and analysis of linear referenced data in ArcGIS Pro and across the web. Additional capabilities that Location Referencing provides includes:

REST services to extend linear referencing to the web

ArcGIS REST API Linear Referencing capability documentation.

Event Behaviors

Pre Event Behaviors
Before event behaviors are applied to an extended route. Functional Class (in red) has Stay Put behavior configured. ADT (in gold) has Move behavior configured. RoadType (in green) has Retire behavior configured.
Post Event Behaviors
After event behaviors are applied to the extended route. Functional Class (in red) maintains the geographic location and has measures updated. ADT (in gold) maintains measures and has its shape updated. RoadType (in green) retires.

External System Integration

Multiple LRM support

Events that span routes

Time Awareness

Time view on November 6, 2021.
View of the route on November 6, 2021 before it was realigned.
Time view on December 2, 2021.
View of the route on December 2, 2021 after it was realigned.

Integration with the Utility Network


Linear referencing has been supported by Esri for years. For many users, the core linear referencing tools have provided the capabilities needed to manage their linear referenced data in a GIS. With the core linear referencing tools now available in ArcGIS Pro, users can continue to take advantage of these tools along with many of the new capabilities in the next generation desktop product.

For other users, there may be a need for additional linear referencing tools and capabilities along with the need to expand the use of linear referencing within their organization. For these users, Location Referencing is the answer as it expands linear referencing throughout ArcGIS and provides additional tools and capabilities for an enterprise LRS throughout your enterprise.

Making the move to Location Referencing doesn’t mean the core linear referencing tools can’t have a place in your organization. Users of Location Referencing are still able to utilize the core linear referencing tools side by side with those from the Location Referencing extension as needed based on their data and workflows.


Banner image by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.

About the authors

Donald is a Product Engineer for the Geodatabase Development team and joined in 2020. He has a background in Geography and, prior to joining, held various roles testing software. Donald is currently focused on testing software and writing documentation for ArcGIS pro.

Nathan Easley is a Product Owner and team lead for the Location Referencing extension at Esri. For the last 11 years he's worked to research and implement linear referencing capabilities into the Location Referencing products, ArcGIS Roads and Highways and ArcGIS Pipeline Referencing.

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